Some Unexpected Benefits from Strength Training

For years I struggled to make strength training a habit. All the data shows this is a vital part of aging well, but I couldn’t make myself do it consistently and effectively enough to see any benefits. But a few years ago, I found a club that offered a different approach to weight training, and it has not only helped me get physically stronger but has also resulted in some unexpected mindset benefits.

Strength training has taught me a lot about perfectionism and mindfulness. Selecting weights and counting reps and sets triggers my need to do things perfectly. At the same time, although my body is engaged, my mind still finds ways to escape the repetitive exercise and distract itself with other thoughts rather than staying mindful.

The way strength training works at my gym helps in a few ways.

A few basics – my gym provides personal training programs that run on a USB stick which plugs into the strength training machine and guides you through each workout. The program keeps track of your actual pace, reps, sets, and amount of weight lifted as you progress through the workout.

A “perfect workout” means that you have used the required amount of weight, done all the reps/sets, and kept the timing pace (time to lift and time to lower the weight for each rep). I initially thought this would be easy. Sure, I could do perfect workouts! Probably every time. But once I started doing the exercises, reality set in very quickly.

I immediately learned how important it is to stay mindful. If my mind wandered to a previous conversation with my husband or whether I should treat myself to coffee from Dunkin on the way home, I inevitably fell off the pace. Focusing on how quickly I lifted and lowered every rep wasn’t exciting, but it deserved my attention because it was what I was doing now. I wasn’t currently engaged in that conversation with my husband, and I could decide about the coffee situation after the workout. Since I was there to do my strength training, that was what deserved my attention. My full attention.

Even after learning the importance of mindfulness, I couldn’t keep my attention focused on every workout. There were mornings when my body couldn’t coax my brain away from replaying the past or planning the future. And I learned that was ok. I didn’t get my perfect workouts, but I still got stronger! Although striving for perfection can be motivating, it shouldn’t get in the way of doing something that’s good enough. Even my non-perfect workouts, done consistently, have made me stronger. And that, after all, is my ultimate goal.

I also learned that perfect workouts are much easier to achieve when working within my current abilities. Some training programs are harder than others. I have a better shot at accomplishing the perfect workout when the program isn’t requiring me to work beyond my current strength capabilities. When doing a program that significantly pushes my limits, I often can’t execute it perfectly. These are the times when I can’t finish all the reps or have to reduce the weight on some sets. I have to be ok with letting go of perfection.

And letting go of perfection is necessary to free me to pay attention to the limits of my body. My body doesn’t have the resiliency and ability to recover that I had in my twenties. If my brain fixates on the perfect workout score, and that causes me to push my knees to the point of pain or injury (not just normal muscle soreness), then I’m not being smart. Sometimes the wisest thing for my health and wellness is to back off the intensity today, so I can come back tomorrow (rather than having to take time off to recover from an injury).

Ironically, the workouts when I don’t come close to “perfect” give me the most significant strength gains. Like so many other things in life, it’s not achieving perfection that matters when you’re pushing your limits. The sheer act of pushing your comfort zone achieves something important.

And finally, I’ve learned that celebrating our successes matters! The machine gives me a star on the display when I’ve done a perfect workout. I can also get online stats on how many perfect workouts I’ve had each month and the total since I joined. Getting that star and seeing those numbers increase is a trivial thing, but it makes my goal-oriented brain do a little fist pump. And that increases my motivation to go back and keep trying (in a smart way) for yet another perfect workout.

In closing, if you’ve never found a way to do consistent strength training, I encourage you to keep experimenting with different approaches. Like me, you just might find a method that keeps you engaged. It’s still not a particularly enjoyable activity for me most days, but I keep doing it because it has delivered results. My body has grown stronger (which helps with everyday life activities), and I’ve also learned some unexpected lessons on mindfulness and perfectionism.

A Closing Prayer – A blessing for perfectionists dealing with aging bodies

Although aging bodies are a natural part of life, it’s not easy to be at peace with those changes. For all of us trying to keep our bodies strong and healthy, may we be graced with both wisdom and courage. Wisdom to know the difference between pushing our limits to get stronger and ignoring the feedback from our body and risking injury. Courage to continue to show up and do the work, gradually pushing our limits, even if we’re not currently seeing any change. May we be grateful for what our bodies can do rather than focusing on the abilities we’ve lost. May we always be kind to ourselves, recognizing that “good enough,” rather than perfection, may often be a wiser choice. Amen.


  1. I see a lot (A LOT) of myself in your words. After being away from my exercise routine for a week, the timing of your blog is perfect. Today is the day I regroup and get back into my routine. I will follow the 80/20 rule where 80% is good enough, gives benefits, and leaves room for growth. I will respect the fact that my body ain’t what it used to be so I need to ease back into the program, even though I wasn’t fully detached for the week I was away. As you noted, injury will prevent me from doing anything. And something is better than nothing!


    1. I’m impressed you are ok with 80% being good enough! That’s a huge milestone for us (recovering) perfectionists. I had to keep my own words in mind during my workout this morning when I was 100% on track for a perfect workout until 27 minutes in, when my first bicep curl was a bit too fast. I was very annoyed with myself for not paying attention, but then I let it go…(mostly)…


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